Logan • While the Utah State football was reminded of the thorn in its side this weekend — close losses to high-caliber BCS opponents — the Aggies have been a thorn themselves for their next opponent.
In their last four meetings, San Jose State (1-2, 0-0) just hasn’t been able to figure out Utah State (2-2, 1-0), the team that bullied them in the WAC, then moved to the Mountain West with them. It would be tough to pick a game where both the Aggies’ offense and defense shined more than in last year’s 49-27 beatdown of the Spartans — a game in which they recorded a school-record 13 sacks.
All the more reason to tread lightly heading to San Jose again for a Friday prime-time date on ESPN.
“They’re going to be hungry, and we’re going to have a target on our backs,” senior guard Jamie Markosian said. “If anything, we have to be sharper and more prepared than them. They’re going to be ready with everything they got, just like we’re going to bring everything we’ve got.”
Utah State unloaded last year, and the numbers are staggering: Besides the sacks, the Aggies held San Jose to 4 yards rushing. Kerwynn Williams had 176 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, while Chuckie Keeton threw three touchdowns and ran for another.
But the Aggies said Monday that they’re wiping that game from the whiteboard. Both teams have new coaching staffs, new role players and, in the Spartans’ case, new schemes. Last year’s benchmarks don’t apply when looking at Friday’s matchup.
“I don’t care if it’s 7-6, 49-48, we just want one more point than them,” USU coach Matt Wells said. “We’ve got to win on the road if we want to be competing in November for a conference championship.”
Some of the best players in the game, however, will be recognizable. Quarterback David Fales, who entered the year as a highly rated 2014 NFL Draft prospect, put up 467 yards and three touchdowns on the Aggies even after being savaged in the backfield. Top-flight receiver Noel Grigsby is expected to miss the game with an injury, but Chandler Jones and Jabari Carr are still dangerous threats in the passing game.
San Jose State’s offense hasn’t taken off as hoped, ranking No. 97 in the country in scoring. Utah State’s defense, coming off one of its better performances, hopes to keep giving Fales fits, but it will be a challenge. Cornerback Nevin Lawson estimated San Jose will throw 70 percent of the time.
Besides, the Aggies are still shaking off a bit of a hangover from their 17-14 loss to USC on Saturday.
“I’d rather lose by 100 than three, so it hurts,” Lawson said. “I can tell it hurts the team that we were the better team but ended up losing. But we’ve got to use that as fuel.”
The Utah State offense will have more motivation after being shut out of the fourth quarter against the Trojans. Quarterback Chuckie Keeton still is one of the most prolific passers in the country, but couldn’t get rolling against USC.
The running game may be even more important: San Jose’s defense is one of the nation’s best against the pass, but has allowed 212 rushing yards per game. Wells said he expects Joe Hill to be ready to play by Friday, but is comfortable with Joey DeMartino taking on more carries if necessary.
Utah State at San Jose State
P Friday, 6 p.m.
TV • ESPN